BILL WATTERSON wasn't interviewed for the new documentary Dear Mr. Watterson.
That's really all you need to know about this friendly little film, which is sanguine about what it is (a love letter to Watterson's comic strip Calvin and Hobbes), and what it is not (a biopic of the famously private, reclusive Watterson).
Filmmaker Joel Allen Schroeder visits Watterson's hometown of Chagrin Falls, Ohio. He digs through Watterson's original art at Ohio State's Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, and pokes through old newspapers to find the original, full-color print runs of Calvin and Hobbes. He chats with the author of an unauthorized biography of Watterson, and interviews a slew of industry professionals, artists, and publishers about Watterson's legacy. (Cartoonists Berkeley Breathed and Stephan Pastis are particularly fun to hear from.)
Schroeder—who's got kind of a mini-Chuck Klosterman thing going on—explains that he loves Calvin and Hobbes, but isn't a huge fan of comics otherwise. This is perhaps why, while Dear Mr. Watterson is a charming enough love letter, it's light on insights about Watterson's work. We're repeatedly told, for example, how brilliant Watterson's technique is, how his large-format Sunday comics represented a perfect marriage of form and function. But no one goes any deeper to explicate what, exactly, is so great about it; the brilliance of Calvin and Hobbes is largely presented as a given.
And it is a brilliant comic, a high-water mark of a medium that's seen a precipitous decline in the last 30 years, which is why it's hard to begrudge this film its enthusiasm. Dear Mr. Watterson is a passion project, funded on Kickstarter to the tune of nearly $25,000 for initial filming, and passion is what ultimately shines through all the talking heads and slow pans over familiar comic strips. It might not shed much new light on Watterson or his work, but it'll certainly make you want to dig up your old Calvin and Hobbes anthology.